Exploring the “Forests in the Sky”: our new Rio Machay Reserve, east ridge

Our new Rio Machay Reserve near Banos and the Rio Pastaza protects Cerro Mayordomo, in the Llanganates mountains of the eastern Andes of Ecuador. Cerro Mayordomo is shaped like a horseshoe with the open end facing south; the Rio Machay runs through the center of the “horseshoe”. From 1996 to about 2004 I spent a lot of time exploring the western arm of the horseshoe, but only visited the eastern arm once or twice. A poisonous tree called Toxicodendron (same genus as American poison ivy) is common near the beginning of the trail up the eastern arm, and I developed a nasty allergy to it. A week after my last trip there (2004?), my eyes were swollen shut and yellow liquid dripped from my earlobes, and I nearly clawed my skin off from itching…. Since then I thought it best to avoid that ridge. (Note: I now know there is a simple cure: Prednisone, which cures me completely in less than half an hour!)

Now that we own it, we’ve begun to explore it once more, with eyes that have been trained by ten additional years of exposure to interesting plants in our area. Juan Pablo Reyes, Fausto Recalde, and Luis Recalde went up last week, and came back safe and sound without developing rashes. They went as far as they could in one day, clearing the old trail from 1500m to 2200m. They stopped for lunch at the highest point. As Luis was eating he looked at the ground and noticed a fallen bract, which to almost anyone else would have been completely meaningless. But Luis shouted “Magnolia!” and he was right. It was a piece of a Magnolia flower that had fallen from the canopy. He had recognized it because he had worked many weeks with Dr Antonio Vazquez and students, studying two newly discovered Magnolia tree species in the Rio Zunac Reserve in the Cordillera Abitagua, just 15 km to the east of this ridge. Luis, Fausto, and Juan Pablo looked around and found two Magnolia trees near the trail. Here is their photo of the leaves and flower bud:

This was a remarkable discovery. The local people here do not know these plants (except for our men); they have no local name. Apparently Magnolias have always been very rare here. I sent pictures of these leaves to Dr Vazquez, who said it was Magnolia vargasiana, one of the two new species discovered in the Rio Zunac Reserve. Luis, however, felt the flower bud was much smaller than that species. Perhaps the flower bud was very immature.

Fausto Recalde now has a great eye for the orchid genus Dracula, and he found some there near the lunch spot. This was also exciting news for us, as we had never found any Dracula species in the Banos area on any of the mountains except the easternmost one, the Cordillera Abitagua. Unfortunately he couldn’t find any flowers, so we didn’t know which species it was.

The three men also found one of my favorite orchid species, Masdevallia teagueii. Up to now this plant had only been found in our area on the Cordillera Abitagua and other mountains to the east. This strange flower has a trap mechanism like a Venus’ Flytrap; when a small Drosophila-like fly lands on the lip, the lip of the flower instantly snaps shut, trapping the fly. In order to escape, the fly has to squeeze past the stigma and anther of the orchid, thus ensuring pollination (if the fly had pollinia previously attached to it) and deposition of its own pollinia (which are waxy chunks of pollen attached to sticky plunger-like pads that glue themselves to the insect). After twenty minutes the lip opens and the flower can do it again.

There are very few orchids that have active lips like this. Three other orchid genera in our area have independently evolved this ability: Acostaea, Porroglossum, and Condylago (all in the Pleurothallidinae, the same subtribe as Masdevallia teagueii). Incredibly, each of the four genera evolved a completely different engineering solution to accomplish the motion. In Masdevallia teagueii the heavy lip is attached to the rest of the flower by a thin concave strip of tissue. When stimulated, it instantly changes concavity, flipping the lip upward. The stimulus signal may be electrical.

I discovered the sensitivity of the lip in the 1990s. Prior to that discovery the plant seemed like a normal Masdevallia, where it had been placed originally. But after the discovery of this extraordinary snapping ability, and the unusual structures underlying it, the world expert in these orchids, Dr Carl Luer, decided to establish a new genus for this plant. He named the genus after me, “Jostia“. But later molecular phylogenies based on DNA showed that this plant was embedded in the same branch of the orchid family tree as the normal Masdevallia species. So “my” genus got sunk and the plant is now once again called Masdevallia teagueii. (By the way, the specific name honors the same Walter Teague who was honored by the genus Teagueia, which I have discussed extensively elsewhere.)

Of course I wanted to see all these exciting finds of Juan Pablo, Luis, and Fausto. I waited a few days to make sure the rangers and Juan Pablo didn’t swell up and drip yellow liquid from their ears. They didn’t, so I dared to go up myself, especially to try to find a flower of the Magnolia, and to look more closely at the Dracula plants. I made an extra effort not to touch the trunks of any tree along the trail, to avoid the poison tree. The climb was more difficult than I had remembered from twenty years ago….I hate getting old!!!….but I did make it to the point where the earlier group had turned around. I was pleased to find one of the species I had discovered on the west arm of Mayordomo decades earlier, Lepanthes aprina. It also turns up on Cerro Candelaria to the south (same climate), but not on the cordilleras to the east (wetter) or to the west (drier). I also found Lepanthes jackinpyxa (latin for “jack-in-the-box”, named by Carl Luer), which I had never seen before on this mountain. It was previously known in this area only from the Cordillera Abitagua, where it grows in the same forest as Magnolia vargasiana.

Lepanthes aprina, endemic to the second line of mountains facing Amazonia in our area, first discovered in what is now our Rio Machay Reserve. The name "aprina" means "tusks". Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes aprina, endemic to the second line of mountains facing Amazonia in our area, first discovered in what is now our Rio Machay Reserve. The name “aprina” means “tusks”. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes jackinpyxa in the Rio Machay Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Lepanthes jackinpyxa in the Rio Machay Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

I tried hard to find the Magnolia that our rangers had found, but couldn’t locate it in the heavy rain that struck just then (meanwhile Banos itself was sunny all day). As I was leaving, disappointed, something subconscious called my attention to a tree some distance from the trail. It turned out to be a Magnolia! But it was very different from the one the guards had found. This one had much longer, tapered leaves, and long slender petioles. I really don’t know why I went to look at it—that was the only tree of the thousands I passed that day which caught my eye like that. Dr Vazquez thinks that my individual may be a juvenile leaf of M. vargasiana, or an undescribed species. It had no flower buds. I’ll have to go back.

Then I found some Dracula plants! It looked like there might be two species here, based on the leaf shapes. I examined many plants until I managed to find a flower. It was Dracula fuligifera, which had always been considered a Cordillera Abitagua endemic. Very exciting!

These recent discoveries reinforced my impression of twenty years ago that for orchids, this eastern ridge of Cerro Mayordomo is a transition zone between the flora of the eastern Cordillera Abitagua and flora of the more westerly main body of the Andes. It will be exciting to push these explorations upwards to the top of Mayordomo at 3400m. Maybe much of the as-yet-unknown flora of the high Cordillera Abitagua will also be found on the eastern high ridges of Cerro Mayordomo, as we’ve just seen at middle elevations. We could get to the top of Cerro Mayordomo and back on a five-day camping trip, I think. This is far easier than getting to similar elevations on the Cordillera Abitagua (summit at 3200m). That would take two weeks or more, if we started at our Rio Zunac station. We look forward to trying this.

The World Land Trust still needs to raise some of the funds to make our final payment on the Rio Machay Reserve. Help them if you can!

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

More info:
https://ecomingafoundation.wordpress.com/2015/10/04/world-land-trust-big-match-campaign-for-ecominga-forests-in-the-sky-october-1-to-15/
https://ecomingafoundation.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/first-piece-of-the-forests-in-the-sky-is-now-protected/
https://ecomingafoundation.wordpress.com/2016/03/05/landscape-level-conservation-becomes-a-reality-for-ecominga/

A military footnote: A US military manual for soldiers in Ecuador warns of the Toxicodendron tree: “Plants most important to military personnel are Toxicodendron spp. and Anacardium occidentale (cashew nut)…These are abundant at many CONUS installations, often causing skin reactions that require soldiers to be placed “on quarters” or occasionally in the hospital. The seriousness of lesions caused by poison ivy or poison oak is exacerbated in the tropics…”

Orchid Conservation Alliance site visit to our Dracula Reserve

In January orchid enthusiasts Peter Tobias, Kathi McCord, Steve Beckendorf, Mary Gerritsen, and Spiro Kasomenakis came to visit our Dracula Reserve in northwest Ecuador, near the town of Chical on the Colombian border. Peter, Steve, and Mary are founders and board members of the Orchid Conservation Alliance, which has been raising money for EcoMinga’s conservation work since its inception in 2006. Lately they have been major supporters of our Dracula Reserve, and they were eager to see it for themselves. They were especially interested in the orchid tribe that make up the bulk of the orchid diversity here, Pleurothallidinae, a group of mostly-miniature orchids that includes genera like Masdevallia (Mary had even written a book about that genus with Ron Parsons, and another book about miniature orchids in general), Lepanthes, Stelis, Pleurothallis, and of course Dracula. Perfect guests for a reserve established specifically to conserve those orchids!

The long drive from Quito to the reserve is depressing. On the central inter-Andean plateau we pass through a barren, eroded landscape almost entirely lacking in large trees. Then we turn west to descend the Mira valley, which once had tall dry forest near the river and cloud forest on the upper slopes. Now there are only large expanses of treeless slopes swept repeatedly by deliberately-set fires. But by mid-afternoon we begin our climb on side roads into the high mountains. In the transition zone between destruction and paradise we reach the beautiful hacienda La Primavera where we will stay. We have three days to explore our four reserve units, the nearest about a half-hour’s drive from the hacienda.

The rain falls constantly, since the morning of the first day. The cool temperatures and 100% humidity are deadly for electronics and optics, and nearly everyone’s cameras (some of them professional quality Nikons and Canons) begin to fail electronically, while even the ones that don’t fail have fogged lenses. Nevertheless everyone is in good spirits because this is exactly the right climate for the miniature orchids we seek.

The most diverse genus is Lepanthes. I’ve posted about Lepanthes from this area before; they have tiny but intricate flowers that attract male fungus gnats which mate with the flower, thinking it is a female fly. The flower makes female fly pheromones to lure the males in. There are over 300 species of Lepanthes in Ecuador, and our Dracula Reserve parcels seem to have an endless variety of them. Many are recently discovered species, apparently found only here in the vicinity of our reserve, though some of these surely reach into nearby Colombia. We try to photograph as many as we can, but the rain makes this an exercise in frustration. Try balancing an umbrella on your shoulder while steadying a tiny flower with one hand and a heavy camera in the other, to take a nearly-microscopic photo whose depth of field at these magnifications can be as little as a couple of millimeters. If we are able to see the flower through our wet glasses and fogging lenses, we watch it go in and out of focus uncontrollably as we try to hold still, and if the flower is in focus at the moment we press the shutter, it’s pure luck.

Already from the first moment we find our focal genus, Dracula. The sinister convoluted Dracula andreettae is the most spectacular thing we find the first day. Dracula gigas in the same area is also stunning. Dracula plants without flowers are more common than those with them; ironically, our local reserve caretaker Hector Yela explains that this is because there was a weeks-long unseasonably dry spell just preceding our soggy visit.


Steve Beckendorf photographs Dracula gigas in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Steve Beckendorf photographs Dracula gigas in our Dracula Reserve. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Dracula and most other orchids here are epiphytes, growing in the trees. But many of the most interesting and overlooked orchids are terrestrial species related to temperate-zone North American orchids. I pay special attention to these, and our guest Spiro also has an exceptionally good eye for them. On this trip we find two apparently-different species of the terrestrial orchid Psilochilus, a genus related to the elusive Triphora trianthophora of North America. Triphora is partly saprophytic, a vulture-like plant living on decaying material (in symbiosis with fungi) rather than making its own food with its leaves. Psilochilus has more nearly normal leaves and probably does not need decaying material. But like Triphora, Psilochilus has flowers that only last a day or two, so it takes good timing to find one in flower. Most orchid scientists never notice them. My fieldwork has shown that there are far more species of Psilochilus in Ecuador than the very few officially-described species. Maybe one or both of these forms are new, or at least new for Ecuador. Several new species were recently described from nearby Colombia.

Another terrestrial, a species of Cleistes, catches our attention each day as we pass the clearing where it grows. On the first day the buds looked ready to pop open, so each time we pass, we eagerly get out of our vehicle and check them. Day after day they just sit there, the petals and sepals slightly ajar like the flowers are about to unfold, but they never do. At first I thought it might be self-pollinating, and the plants had many seed capsules, which is often a sign of self-pollination.But when I dissected one, I found it had functional nectar glands at the base of its lip (a modified petal). I tasted it to be sure. Very sweet!

An odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

An odd Cleistes species (Orchidaceae) which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Side view of an odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Side view of an odd Cleistes species which never opens more than this. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

On the last full day, the rain is worse than usual. We visit a site we would like to purchase, home of some of the rarest Dracula species. But when we arrive we find some of the forest has been cut down. The fallen trees show us the otherwise-hidden diversity of the canopy orchids in this forest.

Luckily the rare Dracula we had come to see, the recently-described Dracula trigonopetala, was a few dozen meters from the clearing, still in good shape. Now some especially waterlogged participants turn back towards the road, but a few of us continue on. After a long cold wet hike, we reach an area with Lepanthes everywhere, of many different species.

Porroglossum eduardii, a rare species whose lip (with black base in the photo) flips up when an insect lands on it. The trapped insect must crawl out between the lip and the female and male parts of the column, in that order, pollinating the flower. This photo was taken on a previous trip; we only saw none-flowering plants of this species on this trip. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Porroglossum eduardii, a rare species whose lip (with black base in the photo) flips up when an insect lands on it. The trapped insect must crawl out between the lip and the female and male parts of the column, in that order, pollinating the flower. This photo was taken on a previous trip; we only saw none-flowering plants of this species on this trip. Photo: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Those of us whose cameras are still semi-functional manage a few shots in the rain, and then we turn back. But as we head back, thinking of warm food and dry clothes, our caretaker Hector looks back towards us and spots an enormous Dracula above our heads. It’s a magnificent Dracula terborchii, a species that was discovered in captivity in Europe, exported from somewhere in Ecuador, mislabelled as a different species of Dracula. For a long time no one knew where in Ecuador it actually lives, but recently Ecuadorian orchid specialists like Alex Hirtz, Luis Baquero (who also co-described D. trigonopetala, along with Gary Meyer) and Francisco Tobar had begun to find a few plants of it in this region. I’d never seen it before in the wild. Its sepals were patterned like a Persian carpet, and against the dark forest it glowed in spite of the gloom. This was the most magnificent find of the trip. We vow to try to purchase this property as soon as possible to keep it from being cleared further. This will not be easy–we’d tried buying it before, but there were conflicting land titles that complicated things. Still, we’ve resolved worse problems. We all agreed this is clearly worth protecting.

As the rains defeat the last of the cameras, we head for home. Mudslides begin to fall into the mountain road, but we get through them. Hot showers and good food and company await us in the hacienda, a nice end to a beautiful trip.

On our way back to Quito, finally with sunny weather! From left to right: Spiro Kasomenakis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, me, reserve guard Hector Yela, and Steve Beckendorf.

On our way back to Quito, finally with sunny weather! From left to right: Spiro Kasomenakis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, me, reserve guard Hector Yela, and Steve Beckendorf.

Many thanks to the Orchid Conservation Alliance, whose donations to the Dracula Reserve were matched by the Rainforest Trust, a key partner in this initiative. Thanks also to Vera Lee Rao, Steven K. Beckendorf and Cynthia L. Hill, and Mark Wilson for their major donations to this project. Heinz Schneider and the University of Basel Botanical Garden, which was the initial sponsor of the Dracula Reserve and is still our energetic partner in the project, also deserves special thanks, along with Susann Zeigler and Max Annen, Beat and Urs Fischer and the many other donors named in the U. of Basel Botanical Garden web page.

A special thanks to the Asociacion de Orquideologia de Quito, Ecuador, who raised money for conservation in Ecuador over several years and donated it all to us for this project.

Lou Jost
EcoMinga Foundation

The lip and column (an organ that combines anthers and pistil, characteristic of orchids) of the never-opening Cleistes. The original photo is a 100 Mb "stack-and-stitch" photo composite made from about 30 pictures, to increase resolution and depth of field. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

The lip and column (an organ that combines anthers and pistil, characteristic of orchids) of the never-opening Cleistes. The original photo is a 100 Mb “stack-and-stitch” photo composite made from about 30 pictures, to increase resolution and depth of field. Photos: Lou Jost/EcoMinga.

Orchid Conservation Alliance site visit to our Dracula Reserve
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La Alianza para la conservación de orquídeas visita nuestra Reserva Drácula
 
IMG 01- Click para agrandar. Una gran flor del raro y misterioso Dracula terbochii, descubierta por primera vez en una colección de orquídeas en Europa. Recientemente, su hogar fue descubierto por científicos de orquídeas ecuatorianos. Dracula terbochii es una de las razones por las que elegimos esta área para protegerla. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
En enero los entusiastas de orquídeas Peter Tobias, Kathi McCord, Steve Beckendorf, Mary Gerristen, y Spiro Kasomenakis, vienen a visitar nuestra Reserva Drácula en el nororiente del Ecuador, cerca del pueblo de Chical en los bordes colombianos. Peter, Steve y Mary son fundadores y miembros de tablero de la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas, la cual ha estado recaudando dinero para el trabajo de conservación de EcoMinga desde sus inicios en 2006. Últimamente han sido importantes partidarios de nuestra Reserva Drácula, y estaban ansiosos por verlo por sí mismos. Ellos estaban especialmente interesadas en la tribu de orquídeas que constituye la mayor parte de la diversidad de orquídeas en su mayoría en miniatura que incluye géneros como Masdevallia (Mary incluso había escrito un libro sobre ese género con Ron Parsons, y otro libro sobre las orquídeas en miniatura en general), Lepanthes, Stelis, Pleurothallis, y por supuesto, Drácula. ¡Invitados perfectos para una reserva establecida específicamente para conservar esas orquídeas!
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Una línea de incendio destruye una montaña en el valle Mira. Observe las flamas al lado izquierdo del área quemada. La Reserva Drácula está en las montañas sobre esto. Esta fue tomada en un viaje previo a la reserva. En este viaje solo vimos los efectos de estos incendios. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
El largo viaje desde quito a la reserva es deprimente. En la meseta interandina central pasamos por un paisaje árido y erosionado que carece casi por completo de grandes árboles. Luego giramos hacia el oeste para descender el valle de Mira, que una vez tuvo bosque seco alto cerca del río y bosque nuboso en las laderas superiores. Ahora solo hay grandes extensiones de laderas sin árboles barridas repetidamente por incendios provocados deliberadamente. Pero a media tarde comenzamos nuestro ascenso por caminos secundarios hacia las altas montañas. En la zona de transición entre la destrucción y el paraíso, alcanzamos la hermosa hacienda La Primavera donde nos quedaremos. Tenemos tres días para explorar nuestras cuatro unidades de reserva, la más cercana a una media hora en auto de la hacienda. 
 
IMG – Nuestro Hotel, Hacienda Primavera (www.haciendaprimavera.com). ¡¡¡Altamente recomendado!!! Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
La lluvia cae constantemente, desde la mañana del primer día. La temperatura fría y la humedad al 100% son mortales para la electrónica y la óptica, y casi todas las cámaras (algunas de ellas Nikon y Canon de calidad profesional) empiezan a fallar electrónicamente, mientras que incluso las que no fallan tienen lentes empañadas. Sin embargo, todo el mundo está de buen humor porque este es exactamente el clima adecuado para las orquídeas en miniatura que buscamos. 
 
IMG – Lepanthes generi, una especie recientemente descrita para esta área. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.
 
El género más diverso es Lepanthes. He publicado acerca de Lepanthes para esta área antes; tiene flores pequeñas pero intrincadas que atraen a los mosquitos del hongo macho que se aparean con la flor, pensando que es una mosca hembra. La flor produce feromonas de mosca hembra para atraer a los machos. Hay más de 300 especies de Lepanthes en Ecuador, y nuestras parcelas de Reserva Drácula parecen tener una amplia variedad de ellas. Muchas son especies recientemente descubiertas, aparentemente encontradas solo aquí en la vecindad de nuestra reserva, aunque algunas de estas seguramente llegan hasta la cercana Colombia. Nosotros tratamos de fotografiar tantas como podemos, pero la lluvia hace que este sea un ejercicio de frustración. Intentar balancear un paraguas en tu hombro mientras estabilizas una pequeña flor con una mano y una cámara pesada con la otra, para tomar una fotografía casi microscópica cuya profundidad de campo con estos aumentos puede ser tan pequeña como un par de milímetros. Si somos capaces de ver la flor a través de nuestras gafas mojadas y lentes empañadas, la vemos entrar y desenfocarse incontrolablemente mientras tratamos de quedarnos quietos, y si la flor está enfocada en el momento en que presionamos el obturador, es pura suerte. 
 
IMGLepanthes meniscophora en la reserva. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG –  Click para agrandar. Dracula andreettae en nuestra reserva. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Ya desde el primer momento, nos encontramos con nuestro género focal, Drácula. El siniestro y enrevesado Dracula andreettae es la cosa más espectacular que encontramos el primer día. Dracula gigas, en la misma zona, también es impresionante. Las plantas de Dracula sin flores son más comunes que las que las tienen; irónicamente, nuestro cuidador de reserva Hector Yela, explica que esto es se debe a que hubo una racha de sequía inusualmente larga de una semana justo antes de nuestra empapada visita. 
 
IMG Dracula gigas. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Steve Beckendorf fotografía Dracula gigas en nuestra Reserva Drácula. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
Drácula y la mayoría de otras orquídeas aquí son epífitas, creciendo en los árboles. Pero muchas de las orquídeas más interesantes y pasadas por alto son especies terrestres relacionadas a las orquídeas Norteamericanas de zonas temperadas. Pongo especial atención a estas, y nuestro invitado Spiro también tiene un ojo excepcionalmente bueno para ellas. En este viaje encontramos dos especies aparentemente diferentes de las orquídeas terrestres Psilochilus, un género relacionado al elusivo Triphora trianthophora de Norteamérica. Triphora es parcialmente saprofítico, una planta parecida a un buitre que vive de material en descomposición (en simbiosis con hongos) en lugar de producir su propia comida con sus hojas. Psilochilus tiene hojas más cercanas a lo normal y probablemente no necesita material en descomposición. Pero como Triphora, Psilochilus tiene flores que solo duran uno o dos días, por lo que se necesita un buen momento para encontrar una en flor. La mayoría de los científicos de orquídeas nunca las notan. Mi trabajo de campo también ha mostrado que hay muchas más especies de Psilochilus en Ecuador que las muy pocas especies descritas oficialmente. Quizás una o ambas de estas formas sean nuevas, o al menos nuevas para Ecuador. Muchas especies nuevas han sido recientemente descritas de la vecina Colombia. 
 
IMG – Una nueva especie de Psilochilus hermosa en la Reserva Dracula. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Otra especie terrestre, una especie de Cleistes, capta nuestra atención cada día a medida que pasamos el claro donde crece. En el primer día, los brotes parecían listos para abrirse, así que cada vez que pasamos, salimos ansiosos de nuestro vehículo y los revisamos. Día tras día simplemente se sientan allí, los pétalos y sépalos ligeramente entre abiertos como las flores están a punto de desplegarse, pero nunca lo hacen. Al principio pensé que podría ser autopolinizada, y las plantas tenían muchas cápsulas de semillas, lo que a menudo es un signo de autopolinización. Pero cuando diseccioné una, descubrí que tenía glándulas de néctar en la base de su labio (una pétalo modificado). Lo probé para estar seguro. ¡Muy dulce!
 
IMG – Una extraña especie de Cleistes (Orchidaceae) que nunca se abre más que esto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Vista lateral de una extraña especie de Cleistes, la cual nunca se abre más que esto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
En el último día completo, la lluvia esta peor de lo usual. Visitamos un sitio donde nos gustaría comprar, hogar de algunas de las especies de Dracula más raras. Pero cuando llegamos encontramos algunos de los bosques que han sido cortados. Los árboles caídos nos muestran la diversidad de las orquídeas del dosel de este bosque, que de otro modo estaría escondida. 
 
IMG – Un nuevo claro nos sorprendió cuando fuimos a buscar el raro Dracula trigonopetala. Eso era bosque la última vez que estuve ahí, y queríamos intentar comprarlo. Afortunadamente la mayoría de los bosques todavía permanecen intactos y llenos de orquídeas raras. Esto será una alta prioridad para comprar lo más rápido posible. Fotografía: Spiro Kasomenakis.
 
IMG Cyrtochilum geniculatum en la corona caída de un árbol talado en una propiedad que esperamos comprar pronto. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. La recientemente descrita Dracula trigonopetala, una de las especies de Dracula más raras del área. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Afortunadamente la rara Dracula que hemos venido a ver, la recientemente descrita Dracula trigonopetala, fue unas pocas docenas de metros del claro, todavía en buen estado. Ahora, algunos participantes especialmente empapados se vuelven hacia la carretera, pero algunos de nosotros continuamos. Después de una larga caminata fría y húmeda, llegamos a un área con Lepanthes por todas partes, de muchas especies diferentes. 
 
IMG Lepanthes nautica?, una de nuestras recientemente descritas especies de Lepanthes de esta área. Fotografía: Lou Jost/EcoMinga
 
IMG – Click para agrandar. Lepanthes nautica, vista lateral. El órgano blanco colgando debajo de la columna está el “apéndice”, que imita los genitales de un mosquito del hongo hembra. Los mosquitos machos se aparean con la flor, efectuando la polinización. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Una Lepanthes lycocephala empapada de la lluvia en la Reserva Drácula. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Porroglossum eduardii, una especie rara cuyos labios (con base negra en la foto) se levanta cuando un insecto se posa sobre él. El insecto atrapado debe aterrarse entre el labio y las partes femenina y masculina de la columna, en ese orden, polinizando la flor. Esta foto fue tomada en un viaje anterior; solo vimos plantas de esta especie que no florecen en este viaje. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Aquellos de nosotros cuyas cámaras todavía son semifuncionales manejan unos pocos disparos en la lluvia, y entonces nos damos la vuelta. Pero mientras regresamos, pensando en comida caliente y ropa seca, nuestro cuidador Héctor mira hacia nosotros y ve una enorme Dracula sobre nuestras cabezas. Es una magnífica Dracula terbohii, una especie que fue descubierta en cautividad en Europa, exportada de algún lugar en Ecuador, mal etiquetada como una especie diferente de Dracula. Por mucho tiempo, nadie supo dónde vive realmente en Ecuador, pero recientemente los especialistas de orquídeas ecuatorianos como Alex Hirtz, Luis Baquero (quien también co-describiió D. trigonopetala, junto con Gary Meyer) y Francisco Tobar han comenzado a encontrar unas pocas plantas de ella en esta región. Sus sépalos estaban estampados como una alfombra persa, y contra el bosque oscuro brillaba a pesar de la penumbra. Este fue el hallazgo más magnífico del viaje. Prometemos intentar comprar esta propiedad lo antes posible para mantenerla desde el principio para evitar que se aclare más. Esto no será fácil; habíamos intentado comprarlo antes, pero había títulos de propiedad en conflicto que complicaban las cosas. Aún así, hemos resuelto problemas peores. Todos estuvimos de acuerdo en que esto claramente vale la pena protegerlo. 
 
IMG – El labio de Dracula terbochii atrae mosquitos de hongos que polinizan la flor. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
IMG – Sépalos de Dracula terbochii estan cubiertos con espinas gruesas y rígidas. 
 
IMG –   retroiluminado. Click para agrandar. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga
 
Mientras las lluvias dañan la última de las cámaras, nos dirigimos a casa. Los deslizamientos de tierra comienzan a caer en el camino de la montaña, pero los superamos. En la hacienda nos esperan duchas calientes y buena comida y compañía, un lindo final para un hermoso viaje. 
 
IMG – ¡En nuestro camino de vuelta a Quito, finalmente con clima soleado! De izquierda a derecha: Spiro Kasomenajis, Kathi McCord, Mary Gerritsen, yo, guardias de la reserva Héctor Yela, y Steve Beckendorf.
 
Muchas gracias a la Alianza para la Conservación de Orquídeas, cuyas donaciones a la Reserva Drácula fueron emparejados por el Rainforest Trust, un socio clave en esta iniciativa. Gracias también a Vera Lee Rao, Steven K. Beckendorf y Cynthia L. Hill, y Mark Wilson por su mayor donación a este proyecto. Heinz Schneider y el Jardín Botánico de la Universidad de Basilea, la cual tuvo el apoyo inicial de la Reserva Drácula y todavía es nuestro socio energético en este proyecto, también merece agradecimiento especial, junto con Susann Zeigler y Max Annen, Beat y Urs Fischer y las muchas otras donantes nombradas en la página web del Jardín Botánico de la Universidad de Basilea.
 
Un agradecimiento especial a la Asociación de Orquideología de Quito, Ecuador, quienes recaudaron dinero para la conservación en Ecuador durante varios años y nos lo donó todo para este proyecto. 
 
Lou Jost, Fundación EcoMinga
Traducción: Salomé Solórzano-Flores
 
IMG – El labelo y la columna (un órgano que combina anteras y pistilo, característico de orquídeas) de la nunca abierta Cleistes. La fotografía original es una fotografía 100 Mb “apilada y unida” de 100 Mb hecha a partir de unas 30 imágenes, para aumentar la resolución y la profundidad de campo. Fotografía: Lou Jost / EcoMinga.